There’s an argument making its way around Democratic offices on Capitol Hill this week that oil’s recent venture beyond the $100 threshold, coupled with a two-week, 16-cent surge in the price of gasoline, couldn’t have come at a better time.
After all, the logic goes, the higher energy prices go — and the greater the strain they put on millions of working-class Americans — the stronger the case becomes for Democrats to impose billions in new taxes on the American companies charged with producing American energy for American consumers.
Indeed, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted on Monday that recent price spikes “will allow us to create momentum” for advancing a bill through both houses of Congress. Not a bill, mind you, to increase access to available energy supplies or help slacken what have become historically tight energy markets — but a thrice-discarded plan that endeavors to solve the imbalance of supply and demand by levying an additional $16 to $21 billion in new taxes on the U.S. firms that produce energy.
The beauty of the plan, straight-faced Democrats will tell you, is in its simplicity: Instead of creating flashy new (and punitive) subtitles in the tax code selectively targeting certain segments of America’s energy producers, all that needs to be done is to simply redefine what it means to be a “manufacturer” of American goods. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, why not just call it a jalopy?
But while denying reality — on everything from entitlement reform, to the surveillance of foreign terrorists, to children’s health care — has become a common strategy among Democrats in the 110th Congress, the so-called Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act represents its own special brand of legislative fantasy. Because a closer look at the bill reveals that, to the extent any measure of “conservation” will be achieved, it’ll be accomplished by making energy so expensive that everyday Americans won’t be able to afford it.
But not to worry, say House Democrats. While it’s true this bill seeks to lower the public’s demand for energy by lessening access to it, the legislation also takes great care to reward certain taxpayers for limiting their usage. Consider the section that awards as much as $240 per year to conscientious citizens who jettison their automobiles in favor of bike rides to and from work. It’s a great carrot — if you happen to live in a place like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.
For the rest of us, however, there are just sticks: long ones, sharp ones, and several that will turn today’s price spikes of $100 oil, $9 natural gas, and $3.19 gasoline into tomorrow’s price plateaus.
Thankfully, the political theater we expect on the House floor later this afternoon may not be able to sustain a second act. Despite their compatriots’ marching in lockstep behind their leadership in the House, rank-and-file Senate Democrats realize the political folly in signing onto a bill whose sole purpose is to make it more difficult and expensive to produce energy at home. But should the legislation find a way to advance beyond that, the vote tally we plan to register in the House today will make plain both our intention and capacity to sustain a future presidential veto.
Until then, it’ll be our job to make the point that hard work and human talent — amplified by affordable energy — are the components that built this country into what it is today. Along the way, that same energy helped us win two world wars, raise the standard of living for every American, and secure a place on the world’s stage as an economic and strategic superpower.
The energy-tax-hike bill I will vote against later today represents a significant step back in that progression, not a step forward. And as the debate unfolds today on the floor, it’ll be interesting to see who has the courage to stand up and say so.
— Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the Republican whip, is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.